Evaluation of the Immigrant Settlement and Adaptation Program (ISAP)

Executive summary

In operation since 1974, the Immigrant Settlement and Adaptation Program (ISAP) provided services to facilitate the adaptation, settlement and integration of newcomers to Canada in order for them to participate to the best of their ability in the Canadian economy and society as quickly as possible. ISAP had two main streams: ISAP A and ISAP B. Under ISAP A, funding was provided to Settlement Provider Organizations (SPOs) to deliver a variety of services, including needs assessments and referrals, information and orientation, para-counselling, and pre-employment counselling, directly to newcomers. SPOs were also funded to engage in service bridging with non-settlement organizations and the broader community so that these groups better understand newcomer issues and become more accessible and welcoming to newcomers. ISAP B supported a wide range of projects that enhanced the ISAP services provided by SPOs to newcomers, such as research, tool development and capacity building. Between 2004/05 and 2007/08 ISAP funded 204 unique SPOs across Canada. With the adoption of the modernized approach in 2008, ISAP and all other CIC settlement programs were merged into one single program with six separate streams. Although ISAP no longer exists, many of the activities formerly funded under the Program continue under the modernized Settlement Program funding.


The objective of this evaluation is to provide an evidence-based assessment of the relevance, design, delivery, and performance of ISAP. In addition, the evaluation identifies opportunities to improve the Program and to inform future developments. Several lines of inquiry were used to complete the evaluation including key informant interviews with CIC management, CIC staff, and provincial/territorial representatives; surveys with SPO managers and staff who delivered ISAP A and ISAP B projects, and with clients (814 survey respondents). In addition, focus groups, a document and literature review, and an analysis of CIC administrative data were conducted.

Findings and conclusions


ISAP was relevant as it sought to address a wide range of settlement and adaptation needs of newcomers. It was unique in terms of its availability and scope, and consistent with the purview of the federal government and CIC. However, ISAP stakeholders noted that there are diverse views on the appropriate division of roles and responsibilities between federal and provincial partners in the design and delivery of settlement services.

  • The major need for ISAP was attributed to the fact that it helped newcomers address their immediate needs (e.g., information and orientation, health, employment), especially during the first few years after arrival in Canada.
  • Although there are other programs that provide services similar to those of ISAP, none deliver the same breadth of services to newcomers, or is as widely available.
  • ISAP was consistent with Government of Canada and CIC priorities, and was broadly viewed to be consistent with the roles and responsibilities of the federal government. However, there are mixed views on the division of roles and responsibilities of the federal and provincial partners in the design, planning and delivery of settlement programs in Canada. Some stakeholders mentioned that local involvement may help to tailor programming more appropriately to local conditions.


Overall the implementation of ISAP was successful and the number of services provided was growing; however, there are a few areas in which the provision of ISAP-type services can be enhanced.

  • The provision of all ISAP-type services has increased in the past five years, particularly in the areas of para-counselling services and information/orientation.
  • As the needs assessment process was not standardized, SPOs developed and used a variety of their own tools. While individualized tools may be appropriate, the lack of consistency in SPO approaches may also have meant that some newcomer needs were not correctly identified. Standardized tools and continuous assessment would be useful to ensure that the full range of newcomer needs are consistently identified and monitored by all SPOs.
  • Para-counselling services aim to assist newcomers in problem-solving by helping them to define their problems and to identify resources that are available to them. There was uncertainty among SPOs regarding the nature and scope of para-counselling services that should be provided through ISAP-type programs, particularly as they relate to mental well-being. SPO respondents cited a need for greater clarity and precision from CIC regarding these issues.


The most prevalent positive impact of ISAP was that it improved newcomers’ ability to identify and address their settlement needs and to learn about other services in their community that can help them. ISAP services also had a major impact on helping newcomers seek and find employment. In addition, SPOs are active in service bridging activities to improve the accessibility of community and non-settlement organizations to newcomers.

  • ISAP was effective in helping most newcomers understand their settlement needs, meet their basic daily needs, learn about other existing services in the community, and set goals relating to settlement and adaptation.
  • ISAP was also successful in improving the employment outcomes of participants as clients confirmed that it was effective in improving their job finding skills; almost half of the ISAP clients surveyed felt that participation in the Program had helped them to find a job.
  • Almost all SPOs who participated in the evaluation have engaged in a variety of service bridging activities with communities and non-settlement organisations. These activities have raised awareness of newcomer issues among the broader community, and have led to the development of partnerships to support newcomers.

Design and delivery

The design and delivery of the Program were sufficiently clear; however, there are some areas for improvement such as the need to enhance coordination between partners, invest in building the capacity of delivery partners, and strengthen performance measurement.

  • The Coordination and development of partnerships among governments, SPOs and non-settlement organisations is a means to provide more comprehensive and integrated settlement services. While many partnerships were developed through the former ISAP, there are still opportunities for increased collaboration.
  • Overall, CIC and SPOs had sufficient capacity to deliver ISAP, however there are several areas in which capacity could be improved such as the development of up-to-date tools and guidelines, and strengthening the ability of CIC and SPO staff in various management areas.
  • CIC lacks an approach to collect outcome data which makes it difficult to demonstrate the achievements of ISAP (and its replacement as specified in the modernized approach). Although Immigration–Contribution Accountability Measurement System (iCAMS) collects data on clients and the provision of services, the system’s focus on outputs is only partially effective in supporting monitoring, evaluation and decision-making.
  • The growth in number of clients and numbers of services delivered did not keep pace with the growth in funding (for ISAP core and other programs). Therefore, the Program appeared to be more expensive to operate. It is unknown whether this was, in fact, the case, or whether the Program was simply been unable to demonstrate its growth because of weaknesses in the data collection systems. As ISAP included many different components and as the sources of data and coding system varied throughout the years, calculating the ISAP expenditures for the components covered by this report was challenging. Given the issues encountered on the number of clients and services as well as the challenges related to the information on expenditures it is not possible to assess cost-effectiveness. Aligning the financial system with the various components of ISAP or the particular streams of the modernized approach would enable the Department to better track ISAP-type expenditures. This in turn would provide better data in support of assessment of cost-effectiveness.
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